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Reuben Simeon Judah Dan Naphtali Gad

Asher Issachar Zebulun Ephraim Manasseh Benjamin

'The Encampment of Israel'

images/A9.gifccording to the Writings of Moses there were about 600,000 men and also women and children who left Egypt at the exodus. They came out of Egypt in rank and in file and as they journeyed in the wilderness the tribes would camp around the Tabernacle in God-specified locations.

Exod 12:37-38 Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds-- a great deal of livestock.

The Twelve Tribes

Each of the twelve tribes had a specific area of the camp to live in. When their forefathers had moved south to Egypt approximately 400 years earlier they had done so as a family of twelve households, each headed by one of the sons of Jacob, who was renamed Israel by God. While they were slaves in Egypt they preserved their family divisions and over the years the families of the twelve sons had developed into tribal families or tribes. A good example is in Joshua:

Josh 7:14 'In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes shall come according to families; and the family which the LORD takes shall come by households; and the household which the LORD takes shall come man by man.

Their Positions

The twelve tribes, in groups of three, were divinely situated at a certain distance around the tabernacle. Four of the tribes, Judah, Reuben, Ephraim and Dan were recognized as tribal leaders. Each had its own standard or banner identifying it as a tribal head while the other tribes had ensigns, a lesser type of banner.

It is important to note that Jacob (the father of the 12 tribes) had prophesied that the senior position in his family would belong to the people of Judah:

Gen 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.

Judah occupied the greatest area which was on the eastern side facing the tabernacle entrance behind the tents of Aaron. To their right was the tribe of Issachar and on the other side Zebulun. The tabernacle itself was always found in the very center of the camp with the tents of the various tribes set up at a certain distance. Judah (with Issachar and Zebulun) on the east numbering 186,400 men. Reuben (with Simeon and Gad) in the south numbering 151,450 men. West was Ephraim (with Manasseh and Benjamin) numbering 108,100 men. On the north side was Dan (with Asher and Naphtali) numbering 157,600 men. This brought the total count of men twenty years and upwards to 603,550. Not including the tribe of Levi.

Num 2:2 Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father's house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting.

Each tribe had a specific banner:



Jewish Tradition

According to Jewish tradition it was believed that the banners of the tribes were as follows:

Judah - East (Lion of gold with a scarlet background).

Ephraim - West (Ox of black on gold background).

Reuben - South (Man on gold background).

Dan - North (Eagle of gold on a blue background).


The Tribe of Levi (The Consecrated Tribe)

Now although there are the twelve tribes of Israel, we notice that thirteen names when we identify their places in the encampment. That is because of the special privilege given to the tribe of Levi when they supported Moses' and joined his side and "on the Lord's side", at the time of Israel's rebellion. From that moment on they were ordained for the service of God and set apart as the priestly tribe.

This would have left only eleven tribes but the large tribe of Joseph was divided into two, consisting of the descendants of his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Each was regarded as an individual tribe. Not only was the loyal tribe of Levi involved in an act of dedication but also in one of substitution. On that night of terror in Egypt when the firstborn of every Egyptian family had been slain, the Israelite firstborn son lived because a lamb had died in substitution for him. As soon as this happened God called on Moses to consecrate all those firstborn sons, and those who would be born in future, to his service. They had been saved from death while those around them had died. From then on, they were to be set apart for the service of God.

But when the Levites were chosen as the consecrated tribe, in an act of substitution they took the place previously required of the firstborn son in each family.

Moses and his brother Aaron belonged to the tribe of Levi, the third son of Jacob. Levi had three sons; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Moses and his brother sprang from the family of Kohath. Having chosen Moses to be leader of his people God gave further honor to the family of Kohath by selecting Aaron to be the first of his priests, and commanding that only the descendants of Aaron should serve as priests and represent the people to God.

The rest of the men of Levi, known as Levites, were charged with the care of the sanctuary. This was a holy commission which no other group of people in Israel were permitted to participate in. Only the Levites could handle the tabernacle and its furnishings when the camp was on the march. When it came to rest they were the ones to erect it, care for it, and assist the priests (the sons of Aaron) in their work.

The Levite Camp

Camped just outside the tabernacle were the Levite tents. The Levites performed the priestly duties and therefore were mediators between God and the people. The tribe of Levi was divided into four families. Their tents were pitched between the tabernacle and the people, one family on each side. The Kohathites on the south numbering 8,600. The Gershonites on the west numbering 7,500. The Merarites on the north side numbering 6,200. On the eastern side were the tents of Moses, Aaron the high priest, and Aaron's sons the priests.

Camped in the center was God.

images/STAR3.gif A Type of Christ and His People

God camps with His people. His plan was always that He would dwell in us and be our God. He leads us, he cares for us and He speaks to us with the soft voice of a husband that is desperately in love with His bride. The flags of each tribe point to the real banner of God, Jesus Christ. The four faces and the four colors speak of Him. He is our standard. The Lord is called Jehovah Nissi (The Lord our banner). As the Levite stood between man and God so Jesus Christ stands between man and a holy wrathful God to be a mediator and to meet vengeance with mercy. The Christian will never see the anger side of God. He is our father and our husband and our friend.

John 17:22-23 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."

John 6:28-29 Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

Heb 7:22-25 by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.


Copyright 1998 The Bible Knowledge Accelerator